Amid all the hemming and hawing over American, United, and now US Airways charging extra fees for all checked baggage ($15 for the first, $25 for the second), some of you may have missed the fact that these fees do not apply to everyone. Some passengers—in particular, travelers going overseas, elite-level frequent flyers, and early bookers—can get by without having to pay for their first and second checked bags.
You’re exempt from the new checked baggage fees if you fall into one or more of the following categories:
You purchased your ticket far enough in advance
Good for you early birds! You got lower fares than the rest of us and you’re getting away without having to pay checked baggage fees. American flyers who booked travel prior to June 14 don’t have to pay for a first checked bag and those who booked before May 12 don’t have to pay for a second checked bag. United passengers who made reservations before June 13 can check one bag free and those who booked on February 3 or earlier can bring two bags free. On US Airways, you still have until July 9 to book to get one checked bag free. If you purchased a ticket prior to February 26, you can also bring a second checked bag for no extra charge.
You’re traveling before the date the airlines start collecting the new fees
Second-checked-bag fees on all three airlines have already been implemented, as have first-checked-bag fees on American. However, you’ll escape paying for your first checked bag if you fly on United before August 18 or on US Airways before July 9.
You’re flying internationally*
*Well, sort of. None of the airlines count Canada as an international destination, and Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, being American territories, don’t count either. And stingy US Airways will charge you checked-bag fees for travel basically everywhere it flies (including all Caribbean and Latin America flights) except Europe.
You purchased a business- or first-class seat
Shelled out for a business- or first-class ticket? Congrats, your exorbitantly priced seat entitles you to free checked baggage service. American even lets full-fare economy passengers slip by without paying extra.
You’re an elite member of the airline’s or alliance’s frequent flyer program
Airline loyalty may not give you the types of rewards you reaped in the past, but at least nowadays it saves you from some of the punishment being wrought on economy flyers. If you’re an elite-level member of American’s, United’s, or US Airways’ frequent flyer program, you’re exempt from extra baggage fees on that airline. Each airline also exempts flyers with elite-level membership in its global alliance program. Specifically, you don’t have to pay extra baggage fees on American if you’re an AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum, or Gold member, or a oneworld Alliance Emerald, Sapphire, or Ruby member; on United if you’re a Global Services, Mileage Plus 1K, Premier Executive, Premier, or Premier Associate member, or a Star Alliance Gold or Silver member; and on US Airways if you’re a Dividend Miles Preferred Silver, Gold, Platinum, or Chairman’s Preferred member, or a Star Alliance Gold or Silver member.
You’re booked on the same reservation as airline elite or alliance elite members
It pays to have friends in high places, or at least in the upper echelon of a frequent flyer program. If your ticket was booked on the same reservation as someone who’s an elite member of an airline’s or airline’s alliance’s frequent flyer program, you’re exempt. United specifically limits this benefit to eight other passengers per reservation.
You booked a business- or first-class award seat
Actually able to book a first- or business-class award seat? No extra baggage fees for you. Notably, American also exempts those who book AAnytime Economy Class awards. Neither United nor US Airways exempts passengers booked on any economy-class award seats.
You get a business- or first-class upgrade that’s confirmed prior to check-in
All three airlines exempt fees for those with business- or first-class upgrades confirmed before check-in. However, if you can talk your way into an upgrade or somehow get bumped up to the front of the plane at or after check-in, you do not qualify.
You’re flying on codeshare flights operated by other airlines
If all or at least the first leg of your flight is on an American, United, or US Airways codeshare that is operated by another carrier, you’re exempt—unless of course you’re doing a US Airways codeshare flight on United or vice versa. But at least you don’t have to pay double fees on those flights.
You’re active-duty military traveling on orders
Reporting for duty? You’re in luck! Members of the military with proper ID and orders are exempt from the new baggage fees on all three airlines. American extends this exemption to all active-duty military and anyone traveling on a military or government fare.
You’re mobility impaired or are traveling with kids
Disabled? All three airlines exempt wheelchairs and other personal-assistance devices. Bringing baby along? Ditto for car seats and strollers checked by passengers traveling with a child on American only. United lets you check strollers for free and on US Airways, car seats and strollers are free only if you fly across the Atlantic and pay the lap-infant fee.
You’re exempt from American’s new-baggage fees if you’re traveling on an AAirpass. Unaccompanied minors traveling on US Airways don’t have to pay for first or second checked bags either.
Read the full details and exemption rules of the new checked-baggage policies on the American, United, and US Airways websites. This list will be updated if rules change, or if (gulp) more airlines start charging for first checked bags.
We hand-pick everything we recommend and select items through testing and reviews. Some products are sent to us free of charge with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions and do not accept compensation to review products. All items are in stock and prices are accurate at the time of publication. If you buy something through our links, we may earn a commission.